Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Idea #6: Cultivate Curiosity

At the end of the school year I met with the administrator who does my evaluation and he/she asked me to think over the summer about some "big ideas" that would be worth discussing that could improve our school. This is the sixth of an undetermined number of blog posts that will explore some of those ideas. (Eliminate Letter Grades, GPA and Class Rank; Eliminate Curriculum (As We Know It); Think Differently About Time; Think Differently About Classes; At Least They've Still Got Their Health)

Name of Administrator,

I'm currently reading A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. It's an interested read, as it details the "curiosity conversations" that Grazer has scheduled weekly for the past few decades with interesting people. It also reminds me of one of the biggest concerns I hear when I've discussed eliminating curriculum with both teachers and students: students don't know what they don't know.

The concern is that if students aren't exposed to many different curricular areas they may not know that they might be passionate about one of them. Many folks report that they didn't think they'd be interested in course until they had to take it, then discovered that they actually liked it (and there's almost always a nod to the passionate teacher of that course). This is a legitimate concern, and one I agree with, although I would question whether our current system really does such a good job of achieving this objective.

I think there are probably many ways to address this concern in a more open-ended learning experience like I'm suggesting, but let me share just one to give you an idea of how it could look. In my last post I suggested that one core "class" that I would keep is one built around physical fitness and health. I would also suggest a second "core" experience for all students, one built around curiosity and current events, maybe even call it "Cultivating Curiosity" or "Curiosity Conversations" or something.

Arapahoe, like many schools, has a current events class, but it is an elective, so not all students take it, and it only meets two days a week for one semester, so students only get a small slice of current events. I would propose that all students take "Cultivating Curiosity" or "Curiosity Conversations" throughout their four years at Arapahoe. With the guidance of several teachers, students would be exposed each week to what's going on in the world at a fairly shallow level, but at a deeper level than you might get by watching the evening news (think NPR/Atlantic length of story, with follow-up, as opposed to Nightly News/Denver Post length of story.) Then perhaps every two weeks or so, each student (or a small group of students) would choose one (or more) events that particularly piqued their curiosity and delve into them more deeply. They would continue to get the "shallow" current events discussion each week, so they'd still get exposed to what's going on in the world, but they would also take time to dive deeper into an issue for a couple of weeks, then dive deeper into another issue for a couple of weeks, and so on.

Then, perhaps at the end of the first semester, after they've dived deep into 6-9 topics, they might choose one of those to focus on during second semester and do a really deep dive, spending a significant amount of time learning everything they can about it, immersing themselves in the issue and perhaps delving into ways they could get involved. (Or, if nothing has really jumped out at them, they could continue doing the two-week dives on new topics.) If done well, this gives students exposure to many different areas, and in a fashion that is both timely and much more likely to be relevant to their lives that a pre-digested curriculum.

I think this has great potential, although I think we would perhaps expand the definition of "current events" a bit from the way we currently define them. We would certainly still incorporate the "hot topics" in the news, but my vision of current events would also include many areas that might not be on the front page, but are still current. Here's a (non-comprehensive) list of some current events that I think would be likely candidates if I was teaching this class this week:
  • Economic Crisis in Greece (economics, politics, government, history, mathematics, geography)
  • Confederate Flag and #BlackLivesMatter (history, politics, philosophy, sociology, media)
  • Climate Change/Energy (science, mathematics, politics, government, history)
  • Retirement Security (government, economics, mathematics, politics)
  • Education Reform (government, economics, politics, science, philosophy)
  • Space/Rocket Launches (science, mathematics, government, economics, sociology)
  • Gender/USWNT (sports, politics, economics)
  • Iran Nuclear Deal (science, politics, government, geography)
  • 2016 Election (politics, government, philosophy, media)
  • Driverless Cars (economics, politics, government, science)
  • Mental Health (science, medicine, government)
  • Marriage (sociology, politics, government, science)
And many, many, many more. Teachers and students would have equal responsibility to suggest topics each week, and to search and research to find reliable information. Students would get an opportunity to present on their deeper dive topics, and these topics could lead to internships, mentorships, or job placements. Note that this "class" doesn't preclude or supersede the "pursuing your passions" piece from my earlier post, but just provides an additional opportunity for exposure to new topics and possible passions.

I think curiosity is "core" to learning, and should be front-and-center at Arapahoe. I look forward to having this discussion with the entire staff and am "curious" to see what results.



  1. Just today I heard a story on NRP about teaching Philosophy to Children (http://theconversation.com/philosophy-for-children-boosts-their-progress-at-school-44261). In my opinion, the story is more about *teaching* than teaching *philosophy*. Apparently teaching methods like you suggest may increase reading and math skills, particularly for socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

  2. My hope is that every class currently at AHS is a current events class. Its part of application and transfer. While students learn key concepts - the value and relevance comes from making the connections to the issues of the day . . . a